Baptism: What does the Word Mean?

This blog is the first in a series I am doing about baptism and is a follow up to a number of blogs I did on communion. You can check them out at http://jordanrimmer.com.

The word baptize is actually a Greek word. The word is not translated, but rather transliterated right over from the Greek to English. The word is used after the New Testament almost exclusively of the Christian practice. The only other real English usage of the word is to baptize as in to name something. This comes from the tradition that many people would change their name when they were baptized.

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But before the word was used for the Christian sacrament, the word was used for other meanings. It could be understood as putting something in water. It could be translated or understood in context as plunge, drench, inundate, flood, submerge, or dip. It is used of ships being consumed by the sea. It is used of drunkenness—as if you are so inundated by alcohol that you are baptized. It is used to describe the time Herod drowned another man. He baptized him until he suffocated.

The word also had a metaphoric meaning. As we might say today, you are “trying to keep your head above water” or you are “in over your head.” You could be baptized and not be able to get out.

The use of this word for the Christian rite is an interesting choice. Yes, it aptly describes the act of being put into the water, but it also describes a consuming moment of finality. There was no turning back from baptism. It changed everything.

 

Please comment and ask questions on the website or on social media. I want to know your thoughts and questions.

For more info on Baptism and its uses in Greek, see Robert Gagnon’s contribution to the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, available at: http://www.robgagnon.net/articles/EncyclopediaOfChristianCivilizationBaptism.pdf

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